INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Richardson has been there before. He's experienced a scenario similar to the one the Jets face Sunday in the Midwest.
The veteran fullback spent time during the week - leading up to this afternoon's kickoff against the undefeated Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium - making sure the Jets don't fall into the same trap his Kansas City teammates did a couple of times in 2006, when they were chasing a playoff berth and got caught napping against the Chargers' reserves.
San Diego, then in the midst of a franchise-record 14-win season, already had the AFC West title wrapped up and was about to begin saving its bullets for the playoffs.
"I don't even think some of [their] guys dressed out and their backups beat us," Richardson said. "So it's one of those things that you've got to be mentally and physically ready to go out and play against whoever, regardless if it's not the starters.
"If you don't play to the best of your ability, it's going to be a long day."
In other words, although there's likely to come a time Sunday when the Jets (7-7) will need a program to identify whom they are lining up against - the Colts have six starters listed as questionable or doubtful and also have ruled two out - taking Indianapolis' reserves lightly isn't a smart thing. Not for a team still in the playoff hunt.
"We're fighting for our playoff lives," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "We actually have an opportunity to still make the playoffs. With everything that has happened to us, we still have that opportunity. It's right in front of us. We've got to win these two games. It doesn't matter if Tom Matte is the running back. We're going to play them."
The Colts (14-0), winners of 23 straight regular-season games, already have sewn up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, and first-year head coach Jim Caldwell refuses to divulge his plan for playing time. So who knows how long the likes of Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney will play?
But it's a certainty that Manning will at least start the game, and he's been engineering the league's fourth-ranked offense and top-ranked passing attack at an extremely efficient rate this season. Indianapolis averages 383.3 yards and 28.1 points per game.
Which means it's going to be a challenge for the Jets' 21st-ranked offense to keep up, especially with a rookie quarterback who is struggling with his decision-making.
"When you play against that kind of offense, you need to sustain drives," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "You need to score touchdowns, not field goals, because they'll make you pay. They can score quickly. We have all the confidence in the world in our defense, but that's an offense that knows how to score, so it will be a good challenge for our defense and then a good challenge for our offense to play against a stingy defense."
With that in mind, the Jets know that no matter who ends up playing, the one thing that's absolutely crucial for them to have any kind of success against Indianapolis revolves around taking great care of the football. Turning the ball over and giving the Colts any extra possessions is a recipe for failure.
"Yeah, that is a huge priority for us," Ryan said. "You've got to eliminate the possessions that the Colts have. If you turn the ball over, this is not an outfit you can afford to do that against. We're definitely mindful of that. We have to do a great job protecting the football, and not just Mark, but the entire team."
If they fail to do that, the door leading to the playoffs likely will be slammed for good on the Jets, who are playing with their ninth life. The simple fact that they're still a part of the playoff conversation is amazing given their crushing loss to the Atlanta Falcons a week ago, when most of them left the Meadowlands thinking they'd fallen off the playoff cliff and their postseason dreams were toast.
"It's crazy, man," right tackle Damien Woody said. "But the NFL is full of parity. It's a lot of crazy stuff that goes on. So I'm just happy and feel fortunate for us to be in this situation. Now we've just got to seal the deal and capitalize on the opportunity because the window is just about closed on us. So we've got to make our move now."